French Intelligence knew Max von Schwartzkoppen, a military attaché at the German Embassy, was up to something. So they planted a maid to rummage through his trash. In September 1894 the move paid off when the maid recovered a hand written note ripped into 6 pieces containing classified French military secrets. The letter that would be called the bordereau.


Alfred Dreyfus 1910

The bordereau was not signed. Only a letter D took the place of a signature. Judging from the contents of the letter, investigators it assumed it must have come from one of the trainees under the watch of Colonel Fabre. With only this to go on, an investigation was formed to find the trainee with a D in his name.


Eyes soon fell upon Alfred Dreyfus, a young French artillery officer of Jewish decent. Dreyfus had a very good record except from Colonel Fabre, who didn’t like him. Upon examination of Dreyfus’ handwriting, it was determined that he was the author of the bordereau.


Dreyfus was publicly shamed by having his metals cut off from his uniform and his sword broken. Authorities sent him off to Devil’s Island for treason. All the while Dreyfus maintained his innocence. declaring “Long Live France and Long Live the French Army!!”


Soon after his sentence a parallel investigation discovered the real culprit, Ferdinand Esterhazy. In an attempt to save face, the military suppressed the evidence against him and he fled to England. After much pressure from the press and public, Dreyfus was eventually granted his freedom. He returned to France, was reinstated in the military, and eventually was made a General.


The Dreyfus Affair had a long lasting impact on the French culture. The country moved further away from being a Catholic State and united people on the freedom of religion.